The Sushi Economy: Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy
by Sasha Issenberg, Gotham Books, 352 pages $26.00 Hardcover, May 2007, ISBN 9781592402946
I admit that I'm not the most adventurous foodie, but I realized that I would have to try sushi a try for the first time when my 9-year-old granddaughter began eating sushi for lunch at school. I still haven't taken that first nibble of a spicy tuna roll, so you may wonder why I decided to take a bite out of Sasha Issenberg's The Sushi Economy
. Thanks to Malcolm Gladwell and books like The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy
, books that look solely at one industry or one thought from many different angles have become quite popular. These books read like biographies, and that makes for some very enjoyable and informative reading. It is a challenge, however, for these narrow-focused books to work because the writer must be able to tell a good story. Fortunately, Issenberg is a fine storyteller, consistently peppering the book with fun and insightful commentary about an interesting subject: sushi's rise from a pesky problem for fishermen to a luxury commodity in the global marketplace.
The northern blue fin tuna is a key ingredient of quality sushi, and, in 1991, the price for the fish approached $36 per pound. In order to reduce the price, groups in Canada and Japan brokered a deal. Sound like strange bedfellows? Well, at that time, fishermen in Canada considered the fish a menace to other species because they competed for food with the herring and mackerel. At the same time, Japan Airlines wanted more freight for their planes returning to Japan. Solution granted. But it wasn't easy, and Issenberg tells us of the different methods of preserving fish for the long trip and how the fish mongers in Tokyo received the fish from Canada. He also explains how the Tsuliji fish market in Tokyo works and the amazing amount of fish that are processed there daily. How the fish that are "farmed" are treated differently than those caught in the wild, and how the vendors bid and then resell the product.
The book isn't just about the fish; it is also about how sushi has grown in popularity. Focusing on Los Angeles as the place where sushi got its toehold in the U.S., Issenberg goes into the nuts and bolts of the food distribution system. He follows a small slab of tuna that, by the time it hits a small sushi bar in L.A., has changed hands--hopefully, clean hands--nine times in three days. The book also features some of the great chefs, focusing on Nobu Matsuhisa, who is known for his fusion cooking and incorporating Japanese and South American ingredients.
The world is now an international marketplace, and we can partake in foods from any place imaginable, often found just around the corner. But it is also essential that we understand where our food comes from and the effect its commercial popularity has on its country of origin. Issenberg's book will take you on a trip around the world and is a perfect summer read in lieu of a trip to the fish markets of Japan.